Labour, not the Tories, would now suffer under AV

A new poll shows that the party would win 13 fewer seats under the Alternative Vote.

The outcome of the AV referendum will be decided by Labour votes. The most recent YouGov poll, for instance, shows that while Lib Dem voters are overwhelmingly in favour of reform (79:13) and Conservative voters are overwhelmingly opposed (66:20), Labour voters are split 40:39 in favour of first-past-the-post.

With this in mind, it's worth watching to see how Labour activists respond to a new YouGov poll for Channel 4 News showing that their party would suffer the most from a switch to AV. Under FPTP, based on current voting intentions, Labour would win 355 seats, the Tories would win 255 and the Lib Dems would win just 16 – a Labour majority of 60. But under AV, Labour would win 342 (-13), the Tories would win 255 (unchanged) and the Lib Dems would win 29 (+13), resulting in a significantly reduced Labour majority of 34.

At every general election from 1997-2010, Labour would have done better under AV thanks to a high number of second-preference votes from Lib Dem supporters. But, as previous polls have shown, Lib Dem voters now split in favour of the Tories (a large number of their left-wing supporters having already defected to Labour).

The latest poll shows that 31 per cent would back the Tories, 24 per cent would back Labour and 24 per cent would back the Greens. Returning the compliment, 41 per cent of Conservatives voters would give their second preferences to the Lib Dems, followed by Ukip (27 per cent).

Unsurprisingly, Labour support for the Lib Dems has collapsed since the election, with even Ukip preferred to Nick Clegg's party.

A May 2010 poll by the British Election Study showed that more than half of Labour voters would give their second preferences to the Lib Dems, but now just 16 per cent would. The Greens (30 per cent) and Ukip (18 per cent) both attract more support than the yellow team.

As YouGov's Anthony Wells points out, the poll comes with several health warnings: "[I]t assumes both a uniform swing, and that each party's second preferences split in the same proportions across the country. It also cannot take into account what effect an election campaign fought under AV would be."

But, for those in Labour struggling to explain the merits of AV to an increasingly tribal and parochial party, this is another blow.

George Eaton is political editor of the New Statesman.

Garry Knight via Creative Commons
Show Hide image

Why Barack Obama was right to release Chelsea Manning

A Presidential act of mercy is good for Manning, but also for the US.

In early 2010, a young US military intelligence analyst on an army base near Baghdad slipped a Lady Gaga CD into a computer and sang along to the music. In fact, the soldier's apparently upbeat mood hid two facts. 

First, the soldier later known as Chelsea Manning was completely alienated from army culture, and the callous way she believed it treated civilians in Iraq. And second, she was quietly erasing the music on her CDs and replacing it with files holding explosive military data, which she would release to the world via Wikileaks. 

To some, Manning is a free speech hero. To others, she is a traitor. President Barack Obama’s decision to commute her 35-year sentence before leaving office has been blasted as “outrageous” by leading Republican Paul Ryan. Other Republican critics argue Obama is rewarding an act that endangered the lives of soldiers and intelligence operatives while giving ammunition to Russia. 

They have a point. Liberals banging the drum against Russia’s leak offensive during the US election cannot simultaneously argue leaks are inherently good. 

But even if you think Manning was deeply misguided in her use of Lady Gaga CDs, there are strong reasons why we should celebrate her release. 

1. She was not judged on the public interest

Manning was motivated by what she believed to be human rights abuses in Iraq, but her public interest defence has never been tested. 

The leaks were undoubtedly of public interest. As Manning said in the podcast she recorded with Amnesty International: “When we made mistakes, planning operations, innocent people died.” 

Thanks to Manning’s leak, we also know about the Vatican hiding sex abuse scandals in Ireland, plus the UK promising to protect US interests during the Chilcot Inquiry. 

In countries such as Germany, Canada and Denmark, whistle blowers in sensitive areas can use a public interest defence. In the US, however, such a defence does not exist – meaning it is impossible for Manning to legally argue her actions were in the public good. 

2. She was deemed worse than rapists and murderers

Her sentence was out of proportion to her crime. Compare her 35-year sentence to that received by William Millay, a young police officer, also in 2013. Caught in the act of trying to sell classified documents to someone he believed was a Russian intelligence officer, he was given 16 years

According to Amnesty International: “Manning’s sentence was much longer than other members of the military convicted of charges such as murder, rape and war crimes, as well as any others who were convicted of leaking classified materials to the public.”

3. Her time in jail was particularly miserable 

Manning’s conditions in jail do nothing to dispel the idea she has been treated extraordinarily harshly. When initially placed in solitary confinement, she needed permission to do anything in her cell, even walking around to exercise. 

When she requested treatment for her gender dysphoria, the military prison’s initial response was a blanket refusal – despite the fact many civilian prisons accept the idea that trans inmates are entitled to hormones. Manning has attempted suicide several times. She finally received permission to receive gender transition surgery in 2016 after a hunger strike

4. Julian Assange can stop acting like a martyr

Internationally, Manning’s continued incarceration was likely to do more harm than good. She has said she is sorry “for hurting the US”. Her worldwide following has turned her into an icon of US hypocrisy on free speech.

Then there's the fact Wikileaks said its founder Julian Assange would agree to be extradited to the US if Manning was released. Now that Manning is months away from freedom, his excuses for staying in the Equadorian London Embassy to avoid Swedish rape allegations are somewhat feebler.  

As for the President - under whose watch Manning was prosecuted - he may be leaving his office with his legacy in peril, but with one stroke of his pen, he has changed a life. Manning, now 29, could have expected to leave prison in her late 50s. Instead, she'll be free before her 30th birthday. And perhaps the Equadorian ambassador will finally get his room back. 

 

Julia Rampen is the editor of The Staggers, The New Statesman's online rolling politics blog. She was previously deputy editor at Mirror Money Online and has worked as a financial journalist for several trade magazines.